For 15 years golf needed Tiger. He made the game more popular, more accessible, more interesting, by virtue of his virtuosic play and dominance over the rest of the golfers on tour.
Not anymore. Thankfully, blessedly, a change has come.
In a performance for the ages, 22-year old Rory McIlroy from Northern Ireland made his name this weekend, one that won’t soon be forgotten, and news and sports outlets are giddy about the next Tiger being a Celtic Tiger.
On Fathers’ Day, Rory McIlroy, the only child of a small-town Northern Ireland bartender who worked two jobs to finance his son’s sporting career, hugged his dad tightly after winning golf’s toughest challenge, the US Open, before a wildly cheering throng of newfound fans at the historic Congressional Country Club outside Washington, DC.
But it wasn’t just that the humble, affable, even adorable young man had won his first major. It is how he did it – obliterating the field, beating the top ranked golfers in the world by anywhere from six to twenty strokes.
He became the youngest person to win a US Open since before the Great Depression, when golf clubs still had bamboo shafts. He was only the 2nd golfer in 30 years to lead the tournament wire to wire. He broke records seemingly by the hour, and literally every day of the four-day, rain-dampened tournament. Lowest score ever posted in a US Open. Lowest single round ever posted in a US Open. Widest lead ever posted in a US Open (8 strokes). In fact, his lead after day one was nearly enough to win, and no other golfer could hope to finish better against par than his minus six.
So now the comparisons begin. Like Tiger, Rory’s coming-of-age performance was staggering – one that will forever be part of golf history. Like Tiger, he has done it at a remarkably young age. Like Tiger, the galleries are warming to him in droves, and with an energy reminiscent of that first year when Tiger re-shaped the sport into his image. However, that is where comparisons to Eldrick Tiger Woods cease.
Unlike Tiger, other players actually like Rory. In fact, everyone seems to like him. And what’s not to like? Where Tiger was powerful, cold, calculating, arrogant, intimidating, rude, driven, all business, and sadly, flawed in many other ways, as we all came to learn, Rory is humble, charming, unaffected, possessing a grace he has displayed in both soaring victory and staggering defeat. He is the kind of kid a mother or father would be delighted to discover their daughter was dating. (Rory, as UNICEF ambassador – UNICEF photo)
His swing is not so much a unique style as a compendium of styles that tends to make fans of other golfers who find something endearing to identify with in his swing. He has had the same coach since he was four years old. And while Tiger was the epitome of the ego, in a press conference prior to the start of the tournament Rory said that the part of his game he needs to work on most is learning how to be more selfish, arrogant, aggressive – at least in the way he attacks the ball and the golf course.
As a human being, you need look no further back to February when he was named a Northern Ireland ambassador to UNICEF, traveling to the earthquake ravaged Haiti just two weeks ago to assist in rebuilding efforts there.
So remember the name – Rory McIlroy. The chances are good you won’t have a hard time doing so.